There is an epidemic of inadequate sleep among American teenagers. Many high school students stay up too late at night and often have difficulty getting out of bed the next morning. It is estimated that just more than nine hours of sleep may be optimal for adolescents. On average, most teenagers report sleeping fewer than eight hours per night, especially on school nights.
For some teens, sleep deficiency is leading to substance use, as well as mental and behavioral health concerns. Lack of sleep is known to decrease teens’ rational thinking processes. It also reduces their ability to regulate their emotions. Getting more sleep per night has been associated with a decreased risk of using cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana and amphetamines.
How Do Sleep Patterns Impact Teens?
According to the National Institute of Health, sleep and teen drug use may go hand in hand. Those who have shorter sleep duration may be functioning with some level of sleep deprivation. The ability to manage day-to-day tasks and regulate emotions may be diminished. These difficulties with regulating emotions may contribute to substance use.
Besides, the demanding schedules of teens today are giving way to altered sleep patterns. Frequent sleep pattern changes negatively impact the brain’s ability to perform functions like problem solving. Constant disruption of sleep cycles and shortened sleep duration have been found to increase the likelihood of teen drug use. Sleep deprivation particularly affects motor coordination and being able to properly think things through.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, there are three dominate behavioral characteristics that stood out among teens and lack of sleep:
- Academic Performance: Adolescents seeking to excel academically may try to get a minimum amount of sleep each night. They may occasionally limit sleep to complete homework and study for tests. They also participate in activities associated with future college admission in mind. Despite this, higher academic performance is directly linked to lower substance use.
- Non-academic time use: Adolescents with a strong focus on work or socializing with peers outside of the home in the evenings may result in less sleep per night. Working full-time during high school and hanging out with friends outside of the home are associated with a high risk of adolescent substance use.
- General health behaviors: Adolescents who focus on leading a healthier lifestyle may prioritize adequate sleep each night and refrain from unhealthy activities. They have healthy diets and are physically active. Research shows that healthier sleep patterns and higher levels of general exercise relate to a lower risk of teen drug use.
Less Sleep Leaves Teens Vulnerable
The College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota conducted a study of 9,000, high school students. The students selected for the study were from grades nine to 12. The participants were from eight different high schools, covering five school districts across the United States.
The study found that more sleep was associated with fewer instances of various mental health disorders and substance-use related issues. For example, for each additional hour of sleep, there was a 28 percent decrease in the odds of the participant feeling sadness or depression.
Another notable finding was later wake-up times. The sleep study found that later school start times allowed for more sleep. Adequate sleep is directly associated with better mental and behavioral health, as well as a decrease in drug use. With this information, experts recommend that school districts examine and implement policies for later start times.
Recognizing Preventative Measures for Teen Drug Use
Today’s adolescents face many challenges to get a good night’s sleep, from early school start times to the heavy usage of cell phones and computers at night. A crucial target for prevention efforts is the lack of quality sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics has pressed for later start times in middle schools and high schools in recognition of the many health risks associated with poor or insufficient sleep. To protect against substance use and other adverse impacts on the health and success of their children, parents should be mindful of the importance of making sure their children get a full night’s rest every night.
There are many significant connections between adolescent sleep problems and substance use disorder. Sleep reduction or sleep deprivation relates to higher substance use and vice versa. Researchers have found alarming connections between lack of adequate sleep and the negative impact on the outcomes in adolescents. This results in poor school performance, obesity and behavioral problems including substance use.
Moving ahead, more research is needed into the connection between maintaining adequate sleep patterns and substance use issues. There is a 10-year study underway now at 20 research facilities across the United States. They have begun to gather information on adolescent sleep patterns along with substance use and other behaviors. This new data should provide valuable and insightful information into helping to resolve these issues in the future.